Today Glenn Greenwald tweeted this:
One reads this and instantly knows some score is being settled. Hmm, thinks the avid Greenwald follower, seems someone suggested Greenwald should do something and then failed to do it themselves. Coward! Hypocrite! Leave Glenn alone! *fave* *retweet*
The no doubt small number of Greenwald followers that actually read the article would have discovered that it confirms very little of what Greenwald is insinuating. In a nutshell: there is a conflict brewing between Greenwald and the less sycophantic cryptography specialists over disclosure of NSA technical details. The subject of the article Greenwald linked to is Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins who not long ago politely tweeted:
I think there’s more useful information in those documents than you realize. Please do bring in more experts.
To which Greenwald replied:
Any time you’d like to come to Rio to work journalistically on the docs, that’d be great — let me know.
As the Baltimore Sun reported, Green declined, but his reasons are significant. Between his tweets and subsequent comments to The Sun, they summarize as follows:
1. He didn’t “‘want to end up having to keep secrets’ like researcher and cryptographer Bruce Schneier” who is working with Greenwald now.
2. He feels that emergence into the limelight would also impede his ability to speak freely.
3. The international intrigue surrounding Greenwald’s work, and the possible dangers that come with it, have discouraged him from leaving his family.
Put another way, Green expects that the gains from speaking within the narrow constraints set by both the Guardian and potential mischaracterizations by the media at large would not be commensurate with the risk. One could add that after taking on the most high-risk work — work that actually aims at disrupting the NSA’s operations instead of some anodyne, circumscribed ‘debate’ that even DNI Clapper is ok with at this point — it would still be Greenwald grabbing the headlines , the book deals and the overblown hagiographies about ‘saving the media.’
Since Green only suggested Greenwald involve more experts, the connection to Greenwald’s broken record about demanding the release of more documents isn’t obvious. Whatever Greenwald means, it’s clearly lost on him that Green’s anxieties follow to a large extent from Greenwald’s top-down custodianship and the showboating that goes with it. He also fails to comprehend, or pretends to misapprehend, that he and Green are not equals. Green has nothing of Greenwald’s experience in dealing with the media, which Greenwald helpfully made mandatory by making his invitation publicly. Green also has far fewer fortifications against reprisals for disclosing state secrets, especially disclosures that might genuinely impede the NSA’s functioning. Since his employer, Johns Hopkins, recently demanded that he take down a blog post about the NSA, it’s clear that the professional stakes are much different for him than they are for Greenwald, who gets a salary and book and movie deals for writing about the NSA.
So yeah, Greenwald is right if what he means is it’s hard to get people to do genuinely disruptive shit for you, when all they get out of it is risk, a risk that is increased when the invitation is 50% grandstanding that throws them into the spotlight, requires them to navigate the rights-deficient purgatory of international air travel, and promises alignment with someone increasingly inclined to shaming and berating even deferential critics. But I don’t think that’s what he meant.
Now how many of those 49 RT-ers and 23 favers (at last count) actually read the article Greenwald linked to? I think anyone who has ever been the object of a beatdown based on a Greenwald smear would guess very few. Twitter is increasingly for enthusiasts of a media meta-narrative of heroes and villains, rather than of actual content itself. Many of them skim, if they read at all, and infantile, status-worshiping cults form around certain personalities who happily do their reading and interpreting for them. This is something Greenwald, with his 200k+ followers, discovered quite some time ago, knowledge he now deftly wields to remake intellectual property hoarding, protection of national security and the meticulous vetting of leaks by connected, white American know-it-alls as radical resistance.
In an otherwise thoroughly predictable interview with the BBC (Spoiler: Almost nothing about mass surveillance), Greenwald discloses one other way in which he differs from Green and all those other recipients of ‘Come to Rio’ taunts:
The Brazilian government has actually offered me and provided me security.
You’re a coward, said a guy with government bodyguards to a guy who’d made a friendly suggestion.
It’s near 9:34 in yet one more cheesy performance of heroic liberal journalism getting back to its Hollywood roots via hissy-fits about itself.